@Dinner The Patriots have no options at OT? Solder and Vollmer are both legit options when healthy. Not great, but legit. As long as Brady has all of his weapons and is able to get rid of the football quickly-their offensive line should be just fine. They added a couple of versatile offensive linemen in the draft that should be able to compete for one of the starting guard spots and backup tackle spots. Dante Scarnecchia is arguably the best offensive line coach ever because of his miraculous works over the years with no-named, off the street players. Dante will make their offensive line better. I don't see Pittsburgh beating New England at New England in the playoffs because of their weak defense, specifically their secondary. The Patriots got better on offense this off-season and Brady loves playing against the Steelers' defense.
QB Andrew Walter, RB Fred Taylor, RB Chris Taylor, WR Greg Lewis, WR Joey Galloway, TE Chris Baker, TE Alex Smith, DE/OLB Derrick Burgess, DE/OLB Tully Banta-Cain, ILB Paris Lenon, ILB Vinny Ciurciu, CB Leigh Bodden, CB Shawn Springs, S Brandon McGowan, S Herana-Daze Jones.
SS Patrick Chung, NT Ron Brace, CB Darius Butler, OT Sebastian Vollmer, WR Brandon Tate, DE/OLB Tyrone McKenzie, G Rich Ohrnberger, G George Bussey, LS Jake Ingram, NT Myron Pryor, WR Julian Edelman, DE/DT Darryl Richard.
QB Matt Cassel, QB Matt Gutierrez, RB LaMont Jordan, FB Heath Evans, WR Jabar Gaffney, WR Kelley Washington, OT Damane Duckett, DE Kenny "The Jet" Smith, DE LeKevin Smith, DE/OLB Mike Vrabel, DE/OLB Rosevelt Colvin, DE/OLB Darrell Robertson, ILB Tedy Bruschi, ILB Bo Ruud, ILB Junior Seau, CB Ellis Hobbs, CB Deltha O'Neal, CB Lewis Sanders, SS Rodney Harrison, S Tank Williams, ST Larry Izzo.
2009 New England Patriots Offense:
Their season was over in just 20 minutes. At 1:20 Eastern on Kickoff Sunday, Chiefs safety Bernard Pollard crashed into Tom Brady's knee. Brady limped off to the locker room. Days later, he was placed on the IR with a torn ACL and MCL. The Patriots still somehow managed to finish 11-5, but they had no real hope of advancing deep into the playoffs with the noodle-armed Matt Cassel.
Brady is reportedly on schedule to be ready for Week 1. During May minicamps, Brady said that he's feeling great. While that doesn't mean much because it's coming straight from the horse's mouth, the fact remains that Bill Belichick felt confident enough to trade Cassel away, so he has to at least be somewhat encouraged by Brady's progress.
At any rate, Brady at 75 percent is more than capable of leading this squad to victory. After all, Cassel could only play out of the shotgun, seldom could hit Randy Moss downfield and was really limited to where he could throw the ball, yet he thrived with the Patriots because of all the talent he had around him.
Moss saw his receptions drop from 98 in 2007 to 69 in 2008. He also saw a decrease in touchdown catches (23 in 2007, 11 in 2008). However, Moss still managed 14.6 yards per reception, finishing with 1,008 yards on the season. Wes Welker, meanwhile, continued to make plays, grabbing 111 balls for 1,165 yards and three scores. As long as those two stay in the lineup, a Brady at 75 percent will be able to command one of the league's best scoring attacks. I'd ask you to imagine how good New England's offense would be if Brady comes back completely healthy, but we all saw what happened in 2007.
Elsewhere, the Patriots acquired Joey Galloway and Greg Lewis to play across from Moss. Lewis wasn't much of a factor in Philadelphia, but the Patriots have had success with former Eagles before. Galloway, meanwhile, turns 38 in November and couldn't get onto the field in Tampa Bay last season. But once again, Belichick has done wonders with aging veterans in the past, and having Brady is a huge upgrade over the skittish Jeff Garcia.
At tight end, Ben Watson has regressed since the 2006 campaign. His decline coincided with the departure of Daniel Graham, easily one of the best blocking tight ends in football. Without Graham, Watson has been forced to block more often than he should. Fortunately, the Patriots signed Chris Baker to fill that role, which will allow Watson to freely run routes again. That's exactly why I have Watson relatively high in my 2009 Fantasy Football Rankings.
The Patriots don't have anyone who can be considered a star running back, but they still managed to rush for 4.4 yards per carry in 2008. Sammy Morris led the pack with 727 yards and seven touchdowns. Kevin Faulk chipped in with 507 yards. LaMont Jordan had 363; BenJarvus Green-Ellis Esq. had 275; while Laurence Maroney disappointed with 93, finishing nearly 200 yards behind Cassel.
Maroney should be healthy - key word: SHOULD - after suffering a broken shoulder last season. He'll have to fend off the newly acquired 33-year-old Fred Taylor, who's two seasons removed from 1,202 rushing yards.
The Patriots surrendered 21 sacks in 2007, but saw that total rise to 48 in 2008. The problem was that Cassel simply took too many sacks. Left tackle Matt Light wasn't much worse last season, giving up 7.5 sacks after allowing 6.5 the year beforehand. Right tackle Nick Kaczur also saw his sack rate drop from 6.5 to three.
It was the interior line that really had problems keeping defenders out of the backfield. Logan Mankins, Dan Koppen and Stephen Neal collectively yielded just one sack in 2007, but permitted a whopping 11.5 in 2008.
The news gets worse because every single one of those guys, save for Mankins, will be in their 30s during the regular season. The Patriots drafted Sebastian Vollmer in the second round, but he's a project right now.
2009 New England Patriots Defense:
Rumors were abound that the Patriots were going to trade for Julius Peppers. Then, there was speculation that Derrick Burgess would be coming from Oakland via a trade. And most recently, New England attempted to sign Greg Ellis, who sold his soul to play for Undead Al in Oakland. One question has remained throughout all of this: How will the Patriots get to the quarterback?
The Patriots mustered only 31 sacks in 2008 after generating 47 in 2007. Richard Seymour led the team with eight sacks. Other than Adalius Thomas (5) and Mike Vrabel (4), no one had more than two. Vrabel was traded to the Chiefs this offseason.
It's understandable that Thomas was able to generate only five sacks because he played in only nine contests. He broke his forearm in early November and had to be placed on IR. However, the fact remains that Thomas turns 32 on Aug. 18, and is no longer the dominant threat he once was in Baltimore.
Unless New England acquires someone like Burgess, it'll be up to Pierre Woods (one career sack in 36 games), Tully Banta-Cain (five sacks in 28 games the past two seasons) or Shawn Crable (zero career games). Ouch.
In the middle, the Patriots drafted Tyrone McKenzie to battle Tedy Bruschi for the right to play next to Jerod Mayo. Unfortunately, McKenzie tore his ACL in minicamp, so the 36-year-old Bruschi will be asked to play another full season as a starter. Mayo, who had a stellar rookie campaign in 2008, saves the linebacking corps from complete ineptness, but he's only one man.
Despite limited quarterback pressure once again, New England's defensive YPA (7.3) could improve based on the upgrades the front office made at corner. The Patriots signed Leigh Bodden to a 1-year, $2.25 million deal in March. Bodden struggled playing in the cover-2 with the Lions, but he should feel right at home in New England. Deranged psychopath Chad Ochocinco called Bodden the best corner in the NFL a few seasons ago. Bodden is only 27, so he hasn't lost a step; he was simply placed into the wrong system by (surprise) Matt Millen.
The Patriots also obtained Shawn Springs via free agency and Darius Butler through the draft. Springs is a 34-year-old veteran, but was still very effective when he played last season. The knock on him, besides his age, is his inability to stay healthy; Springs has missed 14 games the past three years. Butler, meanwhile, was considered by many to be the top corner in the 2009 NFL Draft. He was a huge steal in Round 2.
New England is pretty deep at safety as well. James Sanders, starting at free safety, isn't a great talent, but has done a solid job for the Patriots the past few seasons. Strong safety Brandon Meriweather dominated the secondary in the second half of the 2008 campaign. Meriweather will eventually kick over to free safety, allowing second-round rookie Patrick Chung to step in. I wouldn't expect that move until 2010, however.
The Patriots seemed like they were set up front going into the 2008 season, but that was hardly the case. End Ty Warren played miserably, thanks to lingering injuries. He had a knee operation this offseason and there's no telling if he'll be ready for the beginning of the 2009 campaign. On the bright side, Seymour, as mentioned earlier, led the team in sacks and was just as effective against the run. Nose tackle Vince Wilfork, a dominant run-stuffer, is the best of the three linemen. Both Seymour and Wilfork are in their contract year, so they'll have extra motivation this season.
2009 New England Patriots Schedule and Intangibles:
From 2003 to 2007, the Patriots maintained a pristine 39-6 home record. Matt Cassel was just 5-3 as a host, getting blown out by the Dolphins and Steelers, but the team will likely regain its homefield dominance with Tom Brady back at the helm.
Stephen Gostkowski was pretty mediocre from long range his first two seasons (6-of-10 from 40-plus), but he really improved in 2008, nailing 36-of-40 attempts, including 9-of-11 from 40-49 and 1-of-1 from 50-plus.
Chris Hanson had an OK season in terms of punting, hitting on a 43.7 average and forcing 19-of-49 kicks inside the 20.
Ellis Hobbs scored on New England's sole special-teams touchdown last year. Unfortunately, he was dealt to the Eagles. Punt returners Wes Welker and Kevin Faulk didn't take any back to the house, but still maintained solid return averages. Unfortunately, the Patriots surrendered two scores on special teams.
With Brady back in the lineup, the Patriots aren't going to lose many games. There are some potential road blocks, and they include: Baltimore at home (Week 4), Indianapolis on the road (Week 10), New Orleans on the road (Week 12), Miami on the road (Week 13), Carolina at home (Week 14) and Houston on the road (Week 17).
2009 New England Patriots Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
2009 New England Patriots Analysis: With Tom Brady back in the lineup, a healthy Adalius Thomas and a vastly improved secondary, the Patriots could make a case that they're the best team in the league. While they certainly have their flaws, I can't really make a case against New England being one of the Super Bowl favorites. My playoff predictions will be posted after the NFC East.
I don't know if Bill Belichick plays fantasy football, but if he does, I'm willing to bet that he's one of those guys who sends you thousands of trade requests every week. Belichick was up to his old tricks on Draft Weekend, as he seemed to be involved with almost every deal that went down. Belichick even landed two 2010 second-round selections.
As for the players Belichick drafted, Patrick Chung could become the team's starting strong safety in 2009. Ron Brace also allows the Patriots to let Vince Wilfork walk. New England's best selection, meanwhile, came at No. 41, where they landed Darius Butler, arguably the top corner in this class.
The Patriots also did a good job landing a few solid value picks on Day 2.
There were, however, two things I didn't like. The first was the selection of Brandon Tate, who has major character and injury issues. The other was ignoring the pass rush. How is New England going to get to the quarterback? Why did Belichick wait until pick No. 97 to take a linebacker?
Grade given on 4/27/09: B
2009 NFL Draft Picks:
34. Patrick Chung, SS, Oregon
No problem with this pick, though I'm surprised the Patriots didn't go with Rey Maualuga. Patrick Chung is a second-round safety who fills a need. (Pick Grade: B)
40. Ron Brace, NT, Boston College
The Patriots are getting one of the top players available. Ron Brace doesn't really fill a need for 2009, but adding depth to the defensive line is never a bad idea. Besides, if Vince Wilfork leaves next year, New England will have someone to step in. (Pick Grade: B)
41. Darius Butler, CB, Connecticut
And now we see why the Patriots are always one of the favorites to win the Super Bowl. Once again, corner isn't a huge need for this team, but Darius Butler is incredible value in the middle of Round 2. (Pick Grade: A)
58. Sebastian Vollmer, OT, Houston
I had Sebastian Vollmer as a Round 3-4 guy, but the Patriots needed to address the right tackle position. It's never a bad idea to go with an offensive lineman if you need one. (Pick Grade: B)
83. Brandon Tate, WR, North Carolina
This pick seems more Bengals or Lions than Patriots. Brandon Tate has massive injury and character concerns. Maybe Tate gets healthy and stays out of trouble, but I hate this selection. Still, there's no denying that the Patriots are getting an incredible talent here. (Pick Grade: D)
97. Tyrone McKenzie, LB, South Florida
The Patriots finally get their linebacker. Tyrone McKenzie is very good value at the bottom of Round 3. (Pick Grade: A)
123. Rich Ohrnberger, G, Penn State
This is a reach, but the Patriots really needed help at right guard because Stephen Neal is in his contract year. (Pick Grade: C)
170. George Bussey, G, Louisville
A slight reach, but we're in the bottom of Round 5. Offensive line depth was an issue, so I'm not completely shocked that the Patriots went back-to-back guards. (Pick Grade: C)
198. Jake Ingram, LS, Hawaii
I don't really grade long-snappers, so your guess is as good as mine here. I think Bill Belichick deserves the benefit of the doubt. (Pick Grade: B)
207. Myron Pryor, NT, Kentucky
Nose tackles don't grow on trees. Maybe Josh McDaniels should have learned something from his former employer. (Pick Grade: B)
232. Julian Edelman, WR, Kent State
Julian Edelman will be making the transition from quarterback to receiver. Maybe Bill Belichick has some Wildcat in mind? (Pick Grade: B)
234. Darryl Richard, DE/DT, Georgia Tech
The Patriots needed 3-4 end depth, given that Richard Seymour's contract expires after the 2009 season. Darryl Richard provides solid draft depth here. (Pick Grade: A)
It was over just like that. When Chiefs safety Bernard Pollard crashed into Tom Brady's knee, the Patriots' Super Bowl hopes were lost. Give them credit for rallying behind Matt Cassel and nearly making the playoffs at 11-5, but New England needs Brady to reemerge as a Super Bowl contender.
Patriots announce retirement of ILB Tedy Bruschi
Patriots cut S Tank Williams
Patriots sign RB Chris Taylor
Broncos acquire DL LeKevin Smith and 2010 7th-rounder from Patriots for 2010 5th-rounder
Patriots cut C Al Johnson
Patriots acquire DE/OLB Derrick Burgess from Raiders for 2010 3rd- and 5th-round picks
Texans sign CB Deltha O'Neal
Chiefs sign QB Matt Gutierrez
Patriots sign QB Andrew Walter
Patriots cut QB Matt Gutierrez
Patriots cut P Tom Malone
Patriots sign S Herana-Daze Jones
Patriots cut FB Patrick Pass
Patriots cut DE Kenny "The Jet" Smith
Patriots cut DE/OLB Angelo Craig
Patriots sign FB Patrick Pass
Patriots announce retirement of S Rodney Harrison
Patriots sign ILB Paris Lenon
Patriots cut OT Damane Duckett
Ravens sign WR Kelley Washington
Patriots sign S Brandon McGowan
Patriots sign ILB Vinny Ciurciu
Browns sign ILB Bo Ruud
Patriots acquire TE Alex Smith from Buccaneers for undisclosed 2010 pick
Patriots cut ILB Bo Ruud
Eagles acquire CB Ellis Hobbs from the Patriots
Patriots re-sign DE Kenny Smith
Patriots re-sign DE/OLB Pierre Woods
Patriots sign OT Damane Duckett
Patriots re-sign SS Tank Williams
Patriots re-sign OT Wesley Britt
Patriots sign C Al Johnson
Patriots sign WR Joey Galloway
Patriots re-sign DL Mike Wright
Jets sign ILB/ST Larry Izzo
Patriots sign CB Leigh Bodden
Chiefs sign DE/OLB Darrell Robertson
Saints sign FB Heath Evans
Patriots re-sign P Chris Hanson
Patriots sign CB Shawn Springs
Patriots acquire WR Greg Lewis from Eagles for 2009 fifth-round pick and an undisclosed 2010 pick
Broncos sign RB LaMont Jordan
Patriots re-sign G Russ Hochstein
Patriots re-sign FS James Sanders
Chiefs acquire QB Matt Cassel from Patriots for the 34th overall pick
Broncos sign WR Jabar Gaffney
Chiefs acquire DE/OLB Mike Vrabel from Patriots for an undisclosed pick
Patriots sign TE Chris Baker
Patriots sign RB Fred Taylor
Patriots re-sign ILB Eric Alexander
Patriots re-sign G Billy Yates
Patriots sign DE/OLB Tully Banta-Cain
Patriots cut WR Kelley Washington
Patriots cut G Billy Yates
Patriots franchise QB Matt Cassel
Rush Linebacker: The Patriots had problems getting to the quarterback in 2008. The team had 31 sacks, and excluding Richard Seymour, no player on the team had more than five. Traded for Derrick Burgess; signed Tully Banta-Cain; re-signed Pierre Woods; drafted Tyrone McKenzie
Cornerback: Jason Webster, Fernando Bryant, Deltha O'Neal, Lewis Sanders... Bill Belichick signed all of these bums last year, and none of them panned out. The Patriots need a legitimate starting corner across from Ellis Hobbs. Signed Leigh Bodden and Shawn Springs; drafted Darius Butler
Inside Linebacker: When you have 36-year-old Tedy Bruschi and 40-year-old Junior Seau getting major playing time, you know something's wrong. Even with the selection of Jerod Mayo in the 2008 NFL Draft, the Patriots need help at inside linebacker. Signed Paris Lenon; re-signed Eric Alexander
Strong Safety: With retirement knocking on 36-year-old Rodney Harrison's door, New England will be looking for another strong safety-linebacker tweener that they love. Nic Harris is a strong candidate in the third round of April's draft. Drafted Patrick Chung; re-signed Tank Williams; signed Herana-Daze Jones
Running Back: Laurence Maroney can't stay healthy; Kevin Faulk is old; Sammy Morris and LaMont Jordan are, well, Sammy Morris and LaMont Jordan. The Patriots need a talented runner in the mix. Signed Fred Taylor
Tight End: This is probably Ben Watson's final year in New England. Watson caught just 22 balls for 209 yards and two touchdowns in 2008. An upgrade at tight end is desperately needed. Signed Chris Baker; traded for Alex Smith
Guard: Stephen Neal, 33 in October, is in his contract year. Looks like the Patriots will have a new starting right guard in 2010. I doubt they want him to be a rookie. Re-signed Russ Hochstein; drafted Rich Ohrnberger and George Bussey; signed Al Johnson
Wide Receiver: Free agent Jabar Gaffney wasn't really getting the job done as a tertiary option in the receiving corps. The Patriots could bring in a new wideout with a mid-round selection. Traded for Greg Lewis; signed Joey Galloway; drafted Julian Edelman
Special Teamers: The Patriots surrendered two kickoffs for touchdowns and 14.4 yards per punt return. That just can't happen.
2009 NFL Free Agent Signings:
Leigh Bodden, CB, Lions. Age: 27. Signed with Patriots (1 year, $2.25 million)
One of the top press corners in the NFL, Leigh Bodden struggled last year because Matt Millen foolishly decided that Bodden could play in a zone scheme. Chad Ocho Cinco recently called Bodden the top corner in the NFL, though you shouldn't read much into that because No. 85 is a renowned psychopath.
Shawn Springs, CB, Redskins. Age: 34. Signed with Patriots
Shawn Springs is a talented corner who played very well in 2008 - when he was in the lineup. Springs has missed 14 games in the past three years. Age is also a huge issue.
Chris Baker, TE, Jets. Age: 29. Signed with Patriots
An excellent TE2, but as we've seen in New York, he shouldn't be a starter.
Fred Taylor, RB, Jaguars. Age: 33. Signed with Patriots
I can't believe the Fred Taylor era is over in Jacksonville. Taylor, 33, averaged 3.9 YPC last year despite playing behind the most banged-up offensive line in the NFL. Taylor can still be an effective reserve running back for a year or two.
Paris Lenon, ILB, Lions. Age: 31. Signed with Patriots
Paris Lenon is like Rasputin; he just won't go away. Lenon beat out the stick-figured Jordon Dizon as the team's starting middle linebacker, but struggled as usual.
Brandon McGowan, S. Age: 25. - Signed with Patriots (2 years)
Tully Banta-Cain, DE/OLB, 49ers. Age: 29. - Signed with Patriots
Greg Lewis, WR, Eagles. Age: 29. - Traded to Patriots
Joey Galloway, WR, Buccaneers. Age: 37. - Signed with Patriots (1 year)
Andrew Walter, QB, Raiders. Age: 27. - Signed with Patriots
Chris Taylor, RB, Texans. Age: 24. - Signed with Patriots
Vinny Ciurciu, ILB, Vikings. Age: 29. - Signed with Patriots
Herana-Daze Jones, S, Broncos. Age: 27. - Signed with Patriots
New England Patriots Free Agents:
Salary Cap (As of Feb. 15): $21 million
Matt Cassel, Chiefs. Age: 27. Traded to Chiefs for the 34th-overall pick
The Patriots will franchise Matt Cassel and trade him if Tom Brady's recovery isn't behind schedule. I'd be concerned with Cassel's arm strength. In New England, Cassel thrived with Randy Moss and Wes Welker as weapons. He could struggle outside of the Patriots' system.
James Sanders, FS. Age: 25. Re-signed with Patriots (3 years, $9 million)
James Sanders has become a pretty reliable player in New England's secondary. At just 25 years old, Sanders looks like he has a bright future ahead of him.
Chris Hanson, P. Age: 32. Re-signed with Patriots
Chris Hanson had a pretty mediocre 43.7-yard punting average, but that's because he managed to hit 19 of 49 kicks inside the 20. Did a great job of rebounding after Jack Del Rio tried to chop his head off with an ax. Umm... maybe I'm getting this story confused with something else, I don't know.
Heath Evans, FB. Age: 30. Signed with Saints
A quality fullback who will likely re-sign with the Patriots.
LaMont Jordan, RB. Age: 30. Signed with Broncos (2 years, $2.5 million)
LaMont Jordan maintained a 4.5 YPC average in 2008, but at this point in his career, he's nothing more than a backup/committee back.
Mike Wright, DL. Age: 27. Re-signed with Patriots (4 years, $7.5 million)
Another young, reliable depth player in the 3-4. Mike Wright is versatile to play end and nose tackle.
Rodney Harrison, SS. Age: 36. Announced retirement
Rodney Harrison announced that he's coming back for 2009. He'll be a locker-room leader/solid reserve for the Patriots, but nothing more.
Russ Hochstein, G. Age: 31. Re-signed with Patriots (1 year)
A spot starter for the Patriots, Russ Hochstein saw action in 15 games and was in the opening lineup for two.
Pierre Woods (RFA), DE/OLB. Age: 27. Re-signed with Patriots (1 year, $1.545 million)
A very good player on special teams, but nothing more than a depth 3-4 rush linebacker.
Jabar Gaffney, WR. Age: 28. - Signed with Broncos
Tank Williams, SS. Age: 29. - Re-signed with Patriots
Wesley Britt (RFA), OT. Age: 27. - Re-signed with Patriots
Kenny "The Jet" Smith, DE. Age: 31.
Eric Alexander (RFA), ILB. Age: 27. - Re-signed with Patriots
Al Johnson, C. Age: 30.
Damane Duckett, OT, Patriots. Age: 28.
Larry Izzo, ST. Age: 34. - Signed with Jets
Deltha O'Neal, CB. Age: 32. - Signed with Texans
Lewis Sanders, CB. Age: 31.
Rosevelt Colvin, DE/OLB. Age: 31.
Kelley Washington, WR. Age: 30. - Signed with Ravens (1 year)
Billy Yates, G. Age: 29. - Re-signed with Patriots
Darrell Robertson, DE/OLB. Age: 23. - Signed with Chiefs
Divisional Rival History: Buffalo Bills: Poor Bills. The Patriots have beaten them in 16 of the last 17 meetings. Miami Dolphins: Prior to the 2008 season, the host had won nine of 13 in this heated rivalry. However, both visitors won by double digits last year. New York Jets: Poor Jets. The Patriots have beaten them in 11 of the previous 13 matchups.
Features to be Posted This Offseason:
2009 NFL Draft Grades (Pick-by-Pick NFL Draft Grades as well - Live on Draft Day!)